Change petition for California 3 feet passing law

Crossing the centerline to pass

When California Assembly Member Steven Bradford originally authored the 3 foot bill that is now on the books as California Vehicle Code 21760, he included a provision to allow motorists to cross the double yellow line when passing cyclists.

The original bill read (in part):

The driver of a motor vehicle on a two-lane highway may drive to the left of [double parallel solid yellow lines, etc] to pass a person operating a bicycle proceeding in the same direction ….

The 2012 version of this 3 foot passing bill also contained this exception. Governor Jerry Brown called out this yellow line exception as the reason for his veto, and promised to veto this bill yet again unless this exception was removed.

Bradford amended his bill, both houses passed AB 1371, Brown signed it, and “3 Feet for Safety” became law this year.

In response to the death of Matthew O’Neill at the hands of a careless driver in August 2014, his friends posted a petition that asks the state legislature and Governor to change the 3 foot passing law to allow motorists to cross the solid yellow line when passing a cyclist. As was previously communicated to Governor Brown’s office, several states allow this exception.

Crossing the solid yellow line to pass cyclists on the road can be executed safely and is already a common practice for drivers when police aren’t watching. The same goes for drivers who pass stopped post office and delivery vehicles, fallen trees, dead animals, and even the occasional pedestrian or jogger. This proposal is good sense and needed.

Sign the petition here. As of this writing 900 people have signed, with 700 more needed to present this to the legislature and the Governor’s office.


  1. Many states with safe passing laws include this provision, including Oregon (which doesn’t actually specify a set passing distance like 3′). It’s been the subject of many a dispute.

  2. The 3′ Law: Lessons Learned from a National Analysis of State Policies and Interviews


    From this study there are a series of recommendations for both advocates who support the 3 Foot Law and wish to establish one in their state and for advocates who do not support the 3 Foot Law and seek other measures to increase bicycle safety in their state.

    • The 3 Foot Law carries the expectation of minimal enforcement. This is not to say that the law should be written in a way that does not grant significant safety provisions to cyclists that can be enforced. The policy language should be comprehensive, explicit in its terms, and sufficiently substantial to provide cyclists with valuable safety measures.

    • Language similar that found in the New Hampshire law provides an excellent example of the sort of clear and strong language advocates should strive for in their attempts to establish a 3 Foot Law. The three foot distance seems to be derived from the amount of space the average human requires to safely signal while operating a bicycle. The number is not a derived from statistics on bicycle safety. The more space a cyclist can be granted, the safer he will be. Provisions providing greater distance when vehicles are travelling at higher speeds are preferable.

    • We have seen that misperception is the strongest barrier to establishing a 3 Foot Law. A tool to relieve these misperceptions can be removed by careful choice of language and a thorough set of provisions. A policy should address concerns such as how to handle passing bicycles in no passing zones by writing in specific yellow line exemptions in these situations.

    • Interviews with the various state advocates that have successfully passed 3 Foot Laws have demonstrated that, often, it only takes one individual to derail months of hard work during the legislative process. It is extremely important for advocates to understand their respective legislative processes as well as the key players involved from the outset. Advocates should target members of their legislature’s transportation committees early in the process. It is also vital to identify likely supporters and opponents.

    • Advocates should also try to address funding considerations in the language of the policy. The case studies have demonstrated that after the 3 Foot Law has been passed, follow up languishes; the law is buried in the traffic code rather than being drilled into the consciousness of motorists.
    Only extensive education and awareness campaigns can achieve this kind of public awareness.

    These types of campaigns require funding. Advocates should attempt to secure funding and participation of state agencies to facilitate education and awareness programs. This can be facilitated through the language of the legislation.

    • According to advocates who oppose the 3 Foot Law, three feet is not a magic number that determines if a cyclist is safe or not. The 3 Foot Law places a number inside the motorist’s head that may actually unsafe. Oregon, often the nation’s leader in progressive biking policy, provides a stronger standard for states to follow. There, the distance for safe passage is defined by the motorist’s determination of how much space they must give a cyclist in order to pass them clearly and safely in the circumstance where a cyclist fell into the roadway.

    • To be truly effective this type of safe passing requirement should be supported by a Vulnerable User Law. The Vulnerable User Law can be explained quite simply in the legislation—the person operating the heaviest vehicle is responsible to operate their vehicle in such a manner that they are ensuring the safety of the more vulnerable users with whom they are sharing the road.
    Simply, if motorist hits a cyclist, the motorist is at fault; if a cyclist hits a pedestrian, the cyclist is at fault.

    • Bicycle Advocates opposed to the 3 Foot Law should seek policies that move away from delineating specific sections of the road where bicycles and cars belong. Operators of both vehicles need to become more comfortable sharing this space together.

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